It’s a Matter of Perspective

IVAA increases the power of the individual Virtual Assistant by providing a network of skilled, available talent to serve as a resource, a sounding board, to offer guidance, and to provide a sense of camaraderie in what could be an essentially solitary career pursuit.

The importance of this “hit home” for me a few weeks back when a family friend told me: “I don’t see how you can work like that, never getting away, staying in front of that computer all the time without any human interaction.” He concluded with conviction “I couldn’t stand it, I’m a people person!” He was decidedly serious, but it struck me as funny. It’s been years since I’ve considered my work “solitary.” I’ve not considered it that way since I joined IVAA, as a matter of fact.

When he said that, I tried to explain online professional relationships and picking up the phone to ask a helpful peer about a particular issue in their area of expertise. I tried to tell him about the unexpected chaos of suddenly finding myself in the middle of four separate, simultaneous IM sessions.

He raised an eyebrow and gave me the blank look – the same one my boxer pup gives me when I say something complicated like “sit” or “come” or “down.” I confided in him that there were some days that if I had any more “human interaction” I’d probably have to scream. He tilted his head slightly to one side. He simply didn’t understand. He’s not here. He’s not an IVAA member.

He doesn’t participate in building long-term, professional and nurturing (not to mention profitable) relationships with peers that have skills complementary to his own. He doesn’t understand what it means to buzz someone to ask a quick question that will save him hours of doing a necessary task the “long” way. He doesn’t understand taking a “sanity break” to “cut up” with a peer across the Atlantic for a couple minutes before returning to the job at hand.

He doesn’t rely on someone in another time zone to keep him grounded and to tell him the truth about his work, even when it’s not exactly what he wants to hear. Nor would he understand starting over from scratch on a project based solely on that critique. Or respecting and admiring that peer more for their honesty than you could admire anyone for empty flattery.

He doesn’t live it, so how could I explain?

I tried to relay the surge of joy I feel when I land a new client, get a referral from an old one, or receive a simple, but heartfelt, thank you. When all attempts to make him see my perspective failed, I tried to see his. I noted the differences in our experiences and our “points of reference.”

His work environment is less cooperative. His co-workers compete for the same goals in the same small fishpond of local office politics. His professional goals aren’t self determined – they are dictated to him and once a year he’s evaluated to determine if he “measures up.” When he can’t stand it any more, he will most likely jump from his current confined little area into another similar one. I trust my peers, while he suspects his. And I wonder how long it has been since someone told him “you made all the difference in this project,” or “we couldn’t have done it without you!”

“Don’t you hate the confinement of your work, the loneliness?” he asks me, “Don’t you miss going into the corporate office?”

“No,” I smile, “Not really.”

© Copyright 2003 by Angela Allen of Wicked Wordcraft. (Business Name Update: This article appeared in the May 2003 issue of the IVAACast, the monthly newsletter of the International Virtual Assistants Association.